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Portugal beat Croatia, reach quarter finals of Euro 2016

Updated by admin on Sunday, June 26, 2016 10:19 AM IST

Paris: Portugal advanced to a quarter-final against Poland thanks to Ricardo Quaresma’s last-gasp goal three minutes from the end of extra
time but it was the first real attempt at goal in a shocking match. The match seemed to be headed for penalties but Quaresma's goal
shocked Croatia, and knocked them out.

Croatia was seen to be a better team and had a better share of possession but paid for not being aggressive enough. Croatia
concentrated on keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet, yet his contribution was still significant.

When Nani found him in the area after almost two hours of dull football, Ronaldo became the first player all night to test a goalkeeper. It is possible that Rui Patrício touched Ivan Perisic’s header on to a post seconds before Portugal swept upfield to score, but according to Uefa’s statistics Croatia had zero attempts on target.

Ronaldo definitely had one attempt on target, and made it count. Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic stopped his shot but could not hold it
and Quaresma scored with a simple follow-up. Portugal looked a side which had no energy, yet won the game.

“We dominated the game but we didn’t score,” the Croatian coach, Ante Cacic, said. “So the best team lost. It happens in football.”

His opposite number, Fernando Santos, thought it was a very tactical match. He did not say stalemate but that could be what he
meant. “Croatia played the best football in the group stages but we wouldn’t let them play their counterattacking game,” he said. “It
was hard for us too but today we were the lucky ones.”

The game was billed in some quarters as a showdown between the Real Madrid stars Ronaldo and Luka Modric, and Modric pulled
the strings for Croatia, anchoring himself near the centre circle and operating as the team’s fulcrum. In the first few minutes, Portugal
was searching for possession, with upfield Ronaldo waiting for the pass that never came to him.

However, what little Ronaldo saw of the ball later, he was able to put to effective use. When he showed enough of the ball to Perisic
to win a free-kick midway through the first half, Pepe headed over the bar from João Mário’s cross in what counted, disappointingly,
as the game’s first attempt on goal. The second came shortly afterwards at the other end, when Nani gave the ball away in midfield
and Perisic found space on the right but could only shoot into the side netting.

The rest of the first half was boring and dull. The best Croatia could do was send over free-kicks and corners in the general hope of
finding Mario Mandzukic, only to succeed in picking out less accomplished finishers who missed the target every time. Portugal’s
plan was even more basic: to look for Ronaldo every time they crossed the halfway line, something the Croatian defence had little
problem in spotting and snuffing out.

So meagre were the pickings the television resume of first-half highlights at the interval included a foul by José Fonte on Ivan Rakitic
which ought to have brought the Southampton defender a card, possibly even a red one had the referee seen the stamp on the floored
Croatian’s leg as deliberate.

The second half began the same way. Croatia seemed inhibited, unrecognisable as the attacking force that had lit up the group stage,
with even Modric’s passing going astray, though Ivan Strinic’s crossing gradually improved. When the left-back put the ball in the
right area, Croatia came close to scoring, Marcelo Brozovic inches away from connecting on the six-yard line. The resulting corner
was played short and this time Brozovic found himself with a shooting chance, only to miss the target by a distance when he should
at least have forced the goalkeeper to make a save.

Portugal brought Renato Sanches on early in the second half, in an attempt to induce some energy and direction into midfield.
Croatia were doing most of the second-half pressing, and almost took the lead when Domagoj Vida met a Darijo Srna free-kick with a
firm header which went narrowly wide. Vida then did well to intercept a searching pass from William Carvalho that would otherwise
have found Ronaldo in the area. Though barely figuring in the game, Ronaldo was clearly a worry for Croatia, who were wary of
leaving too much space at the back or allowing Portugal’s main attacking threat to go unguarded.

With neither side remotely bothering the goalkeepers, extra time was inevitable. Croatia probably thought penalties were inevitable
too, which is why they were caught cold when Sanchez brought the ball upfield after Perisic’s miss and Ronaldo finally snapped into
action.

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